STI News: Budget reveals a troubling gap...
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Updates on previous review on the inadequacies of Budget 2003 (also attached below).
Budget reveals a troubling gap...
THE Feedback Unit chief yesterday gave the House a stark warning that Singaporeans were losing faith in the ability of the People's Action Party leadership to steer the country out of the present downturn.
Confidence had hit an unprecedented low, Dr Wang Kai Yuen (MP for Bukit Timah) said in a sombre speech that kicked off the second day of debate on the Budget.
The Government's Budget statement, announced last month by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Lee Hsien Loong, had not gone far enough to address their worries over the economy and job creation, the veteran MP judged.
'Based on this Budget statement, there is a mismatch between people's expectations and the ability of the Government to deliver,' he said.
But he gave Mr Lee credit for not opting for quick-fix solutions which would only 'dig us deeper into the hole'.
This was despite Singaporeans looking to him to 'pull rabbits out of the hat'.
Instead, what Dr Wang challenged the Government to do was to relook its old ways of doing things. Otherwise Singapore runs the risk of languishing behind - just like firms that failed to keep up with market changes, he said.
The Government should ask itself three questions: Whether the old policies that helped Singapore succeed in the past had become blinkers; whether proven processes had hardened into routines; and whether values had turned into dogmas.
For example, the way industrial land was priced must change because it was making local firms uncompetitive.
Similarly, the Government's decision to restore the Central Provident Fund contribution rate to 40 per cent also had to be reviewed as it could make the Republic less attractive to investors, he said.
Two opposition MPs who spoke during yesterday's debate also took up the issue of leadership and concluded that the PAP failed to deliver on its election promises.
Mr Low Thia Khiang (Hougang) zoomed in on the bleak employment situation, which has left about 80,000 Singaporeans out of work.
He wanted Mr Lee to state the number of jobs lost since the last General Election in November 2001, as compared to the number of jobs that the Government had been able to create.
Non-constituency MP Steve Chia challenged the ministers to lead the way in belt-tightening by taking a 30 per cent pay cut until the employment situation improved.
Both men also wanted measures to lower the cost of living, so that the financial burden on workers would be eased.
Coming to the Government's defence was Senior Parliamentary Secretary (National Development and Defence) Koo Tsai Kee, who said that the Government had a clear economic plan for the future.
The problem was that Singaporeans had become familiar with proposals in the Economic Review Committee's report.
As many recommendations had been disclosed in the preceding months, they saw it as an anti-climax when the report was finally released, he said.
However, foreign investors recognised its merits and some were already demonstrating their confidence in the Republic by relocating more of their operations here. These included the Bank of Tokyo and Credit Suisse First Boston.
'Foreign investors have begun to notice us from afar. The ERC report is like a lighthouse that beckons them to our shore,' he said.
Nominated MP Fang Ai Lian was also all praise for the Government's Budget.
It demonstrated the Government's enlightened attitudes towards businesses, she said, with key changes such as tax exemptions for overseas income earned by firms here.
Several other MPs such as Mr Heng Chee How (Jalan Besar GRC) also applauded moves such as the Government's large investments in schemes to support workers' retraining. These include an injection of $500 million into the Lifelong Learning Fund.
The challenge, as Dr Wang noted, will be to manage public expectations while such long-term investments work their way through the system to benefit individual workers.
The Government will get its turn to address such views and other concerns raised by MPs since Monday when Deputy Prime Minister Lee responds in the House today.
By: Mellanie Hewlitt
Source: Singapore Review
Date: 6 March 2003.
It seems that with the recent economic down turn, the government
along with the Straits Times (its pet mascot) have taken pleasure in
taking pot-shots at the very people who are under its care.
If Budget 2003 was a slap in the face from the PAP, then the latest
article from Ms Chua Lee Hoong in the 5 March 2003 issue of the
Straits Times must surely be a follow-up kick in the groin.
The basic thrust of Ms Chua's long winded and tedious article is that
during this difficult period;
a) Singaporeans are "on their own";
b) We should not depend on the government for "hand-outs"
and "freebies"; and
c) We are to be self-reliant and have lower expectations.
Ms Chua referred to a "nascent Singaporean addiction to handouts",
I can only conclude that this addiction has been inculcated and
inherited from the million dollar remuneration packages afforded to
PAP Ministers. As they say...."like father like son", though in this
case the "son" (being Singapore citizens) might take stiff offense in
the comparison, and rightly so. Singaporeans are not asking for
free "handouts" here. What we are asking for are jobs, everyone in
the private sector puts in their full 12 hour day and more.
Speaking in defence of all Singaporeans, the allegations
of "handouts" are all the more inappropriate when we consider that
Singapore is not a welfare state, unlike the US and UK. Can Ms Chua
please clarify what she means by "handouts"? In a state bereft of
social welfare, there is no room for free-riders in the private
sector. The qualifier here is the private sector. The sad ironical
twist to this is that whilst ministerial salaries are pegged to the
best of the private sector, they are also insulated from market
forces. Life is good when you can have your cake and eat it.
This is fact, unless you are part of the Ruling Elite, life is not
easy in Singapore. No Work equals No Income, literally. Its that
simple, no rocket science is needed to understand this very harsh
reality. Basically if I do not work , I do not eat. At least that is
the unspoken law in the private sector. And how can it be otherwise
if Singapore Inc is to endure as a viable going concern, the impetus
for growth has always been from the private sector as it is
inextricably intertwined with the ebb and flow of the international
But in recent decades, additional to the challenges of an
increasingly competitive free market, private companies and workers
alike have also had to contend with meddlesome government
interventions. These come in all shapes and forms, from archaic laws
and policies drafted in some ivory towers, to lumbering State Owned
Entities and Giant Loss Making Companies. In one way or another, they
have all added to the burden of an already difficult work and living
Indeed if life is so rosy here in Singapore and Singaporeans have
only to wait "by the river for roast ducks to fly into their mouths",
why are people leaving this little island? Why are birth rates
falling? Why is unemployment on the rise? Why are fresh graduates
unable to find work? These questions are greeted by a muted silence
from our leaders that is deafening. The bottom line is that these
signs are indicative that living conditions and quality of life are
Perhaps by "handouts" Ms Chua may be referring to the Economic
Restructuring Shares that the government "handed out" co-incidentally
during an election year. Give us all a break here, Singaporeans just
want the chance to earn an honest day's wage. So I think the PAP has
maxed out whatever PR mileage they can from the ERS.
But then again, perhaps Ms Chua and the PAP are of the view that jobs
are the equivalent of "handouts". Afterall, slaves are "given" jobs
by their masters, and this is a privilege, not an entitlement so its
argued. But taking this analogy to its final conclusion, the master
here is unable to provide the slave with any suitable jobs. This is a
failing on the master, and not on the slave.
Make no mistake, in the current recession what is on top of the
wish list of average Singaporeans is JOBS, and decent jobs at that.
The average Singaporean does not expect freebies, we will work and
earn an honest days living. But have the PAP ministers taken a look
out of their ivory towers off late?
Unemployment rates are soaring and fresh graduates as well as
seasoned workers alike are unable to find employment in their chosen
professions. And having graduates (and MBA holders) working as
hawkers and cab drivers is not an ideal arrangement. From a purely
economic perspective there is tremendous wastage as costs and
resources have been spent training these graduates and their skills
should be put to good use.
Indeed this issue was explored in-depth in a previous issue (22 Jan
2003 EDUCATION & UNEMPLOYMENT: SUBSTANCE OVER FORM PLEASE) of
The government has called upon Singaporeans to lower expectations and
accept lower wages and longer work hours. These are already harsh, on-
going realities in the private sector. Ms Chua has also quoted DPM
Lee: "In DPM Lee's words: 'We must shake free of our old mindsets,
and adjust our positions to better face a changed world order..."
These words would be more credible if Singapore's leaders practice
what they preach. Whilst the average Singaporean is "adjusting" to
retrenchments, unemployment, pay cuts, and working longer hours for
less, Singapore's Ruling Elite continue with their million dollar
salaries, blissfully unaware of the harsh realities faced by its
A good leader leads by example and not merely by lip service, so
perhaps its time Singapore leaders descended from the ivory towers
and put their money where their mouths are. Otherwise, they will have
a huge credibility problem with the masses. If a leader calls on the
people to be less choosy, to accept lower salaries and work longer
hours, he must first lead the way by example. Otherwise he has no
right to call upon others to undertake a task that he himself is
unable to endure.
If anything, one gets the notion that the government is abandoning
its citizens in this hour of need. The call to be "self-reliant"
translates into an admission that this government is unable to
provide any satisfactory answers to lead the country out of the
current economic recession. This admission in itself is forgivable as
we recognize that our leaders are after all mortal human beings and
But what is unacceptable is the fact that these are amongst the
HIGHEST PAID MINISTERS in the world, raking in annual salaries well
in excess of a million dollars per annum. In the past, such handsome
salaries have been "justified" on the merits that they were required
to attract Singapore's "best and brightest" and ensure world-class
performance. But looking at the dismal state of the economy, it is
massively difficult to see what constitutes "world class performance."
Ms Chua has mentioned that "The Government's protective umbrella is
shrinking in size,". There are many who are trying to reconcile her
statement with realities of life in the private sector. Many are of
the view that the government has no business in the private sector,
and view the dominance of the GLCs in a negative manner. The GLC
threat has even been formally tabled as an issue to be addressed by
the US, and is a major concern of US firms doing business here. If
this is an example of the government's "protective umbrella", then
I'll take my chances with the elements any time. The odds are far
Fortunately, the average man on the street has seen through the veil
and the general consensus is that the latest Budget 2003 is not the
right medicine that will cure the economic malaise that is present in
the economy. It is a mere placebo. Singaporeans recognise that latest
budget leaves many issues unresolved. If this is a product
from "Singapore best and brightest" who are also amongst the most
highly paid ministers in the world, then it is bad news for the city
state as the one solitary statement that is obvious from the budget
is that the current leaders lack the mantle to lead the country out
of the doldrums of the current recession.
"Inadequate" was the polite understatement used by US investment bank
Morgan Stanley in describing Budget 2003 when it announced on Monday,
March 3, 2003 it was lowering its 2003 growth forecast for Singapore,
saying last week's budget for the year to March 2004 offered little
stimulus for the economy.
"The F2003 (financial year 2003) budget in our view will not offer
much cyclical support to the fragile domestic economy and the
Singapore market," the bank's economist Daniel Lian said in a report."
"The F2003 budget is not an expansionary budget... we believe the
lack of meaningful fiscal support to the real economy augurs poorly
for the growth outlook,"
For a quick one minute round-up of Budget 2003, click on below link;
What is even more disappointing is that Budget 2003 follows closely
after release of an equally disappointing ERC report which was
already critisiced for its lack of substance and originality.
The ERC report touched on nurturing private entrepreneurs.
Singapore seems to be the only country where entrepreneurs need to
be nurtured through a ministry of entrepreneurship. Would it not make
more sense if the Government just left enterprising
Singaporeans to do what all good entrepreneurs do best ? generate
ideas and wealth in an innovative society? Instead the Government
insists on keeping the citizens in a political straight-jacket just
so that it can satisfy its obsession to control society, and then
sets up a ministry to encourage creativity! So by all means please
take back that umbrella and shove it!!
All eyes are now back to the US economy, which is the only hope for
domestic recovery. After all, it is clear that our million dollar
ministers /leaders do not have the answers for the problem.
Ms Chua has also stated that we ("these educated types") should be
less concerned with "what new grant can be invented or how much more
to be given to the needy", and focus instead on "how best to ensure
that jobs stay in Singapore, how to bring new jobs here, and how to
propel the economy to that higher level where Singaporeans can still
enjoy the incomes they are used to, together with the assurance of
steady employment." Begging your pardon, but this seems to fall
within the job description of our million dollar ministers. But if
the PAP is willing to pay us SGD1.6 mio a year as basic salary, I am
sure there are many in the private sector who would be ready, willing
and able to take up her challenge.
What a great contrast there is between the bona fide opposition
articles and insightful discussions in the New York Times, and the
propaganda ridden poems of love and political tributes of adulation
in the Straits Times, between Maureen Dowd and Chua Lee Hoong.
Well, how like the local press to always blame Singaporeans, never
the government. But hey, when you are in such squeaky clean PAP
outfits of virgin white, it wouldn't do to have even a speck of dirt
on it, hence the need for convenient fall guys, all 4 million of them.
For those that are into propaganda literature, Ms Chua's article will
be a good read for you.
Oh yes, about the roast ducks that Ms Chua has sighted, which fly
on their own volition into her mouth, this particular species do not
thrive in the private sector, they are native only within GLCs, State
Owned Enterprises and on breeding grounds of the PAP. I certainly
have not been privileged enough to sight these mystical creatures,
let alone taste their succulent flesh. But I am sure Ms Chua, being
employed in SPH, is in a unique position to give us a first hand
account of this dish.
For a quick 1 minute description of Budget 2003 in a rap, click on
below link under. Trust me, you will not be disappointed; "Splish
Splash"��.it's the brown and round thing in the tub.